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Published in Chicago Tribune

To the editor

Green Dot is worth looking at. We can't dismiss it JUST because it is so popular with the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation. And don't forget Andy Stern, president of Service Employees International Union. But people who care about schools should think about their involvement.

Here is a list of Green Dot supporters.

Also needed is a good, hard look at the education track record of democrats who advocate "the third way" [see editorial]

Chicago - The Nov. 11 editorial "Bring on the Green Dots," while well-intentioned, couldn't have been more wrong in its diagnosis of what ails Chicago's public high schools, or in its prescription for a cure.

My spouse, who recently took a position in one of these challenging institutions, sees this firsthand every day. She has had years of varied educational experience -- college teaching, adult learning, private elementary schooling -- and is a dedicated, highly motivated professional with a post-graduate degree in her field. She works with a similarly highly qualified and committed administrative and teaching staff.

Yet at the school where she teaches, less than one in six students scored a passing grade on last year's state exams.

Just a half-mile up the street, another city school with a more selective admissions program saw more than half its students make a passing grade.

And just a half-mile to the east, a third public high school with highly selective admissions ranked the highest in the state on those tests.

Same union, same contract rules, but very different educational outcomes. Teacher tenure, seniority and defined-benefit pensions cannot explain the difference. Obviously it depends on the background of the students entering the school. High performing middle-class students coming in tend to be high-performing students going out. And students of the working poor, often with language or learning problems, are much less likely to succeed.

Intelligence, let alone other talents of course, has nothing to do with social class. Many of my wife's students are acutely aware that most of society doesn't expect much of them. Academic success requires them to overcome much greater odds, both in class and at a home (often running a gauntlet of gang violence in between).

Creating more self-selecting "green dot" oases, unionized or not, within the public system will only accentuate the class-tracking of city schools. For a few it may be beneficial, but for the rest left behind, it will only make things worse.

Education alone, no matter how innovative, cannot break the chains of poverty; we need policies that tackle that problem head on (like a living wage ordinance so that these students, and their parents, can earn reasonable pay for a hard day's work; and unionized pay scales with affordable health benefits; and retirement security that includes stable pensions).

Undermining union contracts will only further the downward spiral of living standards, not just for teachers but for all of us and our children.

John D. Cameron

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